It's Good To Talk
One of the measures that marks us out as a so called “higher” species is our ability to communicate abstract thoughts and ideas. I sometimes wonder if that is an ability some members of the species homo sapiens have yet to developed to its full potential.
I appreciate I am at an age where I am permitted to be a fully paid up member of the “Grumpy Old Men” club and as the years go by I find more and more things irritate me. One of my current bugbears surrounds communication, in all its forms.
I would like to think I am reasonably articulate and, unless confined to the 140 characters in Twitter, I can usually manage to get my point across clearly and without ambiguity.
So why is it when I take the time and trouble to make a point, those to whom it is intended do not even acknowledge the points raised and come back with irrelevant counter points?
Is it an inherent inability to understand or communicate properly themselves? Is it an acknowledgement the points made are correct but pride or stubbornness means they refuse acknowledge them? Or is it just plain arrogance and rudeness?
Anyway enough of the ranting, what has poor communication to do with racing?
By any yardstick last weekend’s Grand National was a massive PR disaster for the sport, even ignoring the rights and wrongs of the race itself.
What is clear is racing as an industry has been seriously wrong footed by last weekend’s events.
The official BHA response to the events at Aintree came in a press release on Monday evening, over 48 hours after the race. Now I accept coming out with knee-jerk reactions can actually make a situation worse but over 48 hours to respond?
The content of the press release was generally strong but should have been released earlier. The damage had already been done in the non-racing press and it came at a time when there were ready to move on. There was no incentive for them to publish the BHA rebuttal.
There was one interesting passage in the release, relating to the dismounting of horses at the finish. It read “all the jockeys had been instructed prior to the race to dismount from their horses as soon as the race was over in order to allow the team of handlers and vets to get water to the horses so as to prevent over-heating….” #
This came as news to many. I have spoken to members of the media who were at Aintree and they were not aware of the instruction. Listening to Clare Balding on BBC Television, she clearly was not aware either.
Should something so fundamental not have been passed to the media so an explanation could have been given to the public at the time?
A simple announcement would gone a long way towards explaining what was happening.
Communication in the sport has improved beyond all recognition in recent years and there is a wealth of information available. With Paul Struther’s at the helm the BHA communications team has a very competent leader. However on this occasion I feel the sport has scored an own goal.
As obnoxious as their views are, the likes of Animal Aid are extremely media savvy, they know how to get their voice heard and they can communicate well, they resonate with the layman - even if what they are saying is absolute rubbish.
What did racing have to offer? It seemed the burden of defending racing had fallen into the lap of Brough Scott. Now, don’t get me wrong, Brough is a lovely chap, he is passionate about racing but was he the best person to front the response?
To the vast majority who do not follow racing he would come across as a typical, plummy voiced, old retainer who is out of touch with reality, he would not strike a chord with the general public, no matter how respected he is within the sport.
The problem is racing is devoid of credible people who can put racings case whilst, at the same time, connecting with the public. Sadly we live in a time where the substance of what is said is far less important than how it is packaged and presented.
A perfect example, and one that really annoys me is John McCririck. He has fostered this public image of being a loud mouth buffoon, as a result few take him seriously. When the cameras are off he is a totally different person. He is very intelligent and can make some very cogent arguments to support racing. He could have been the ideal person to argue racings case in a logical, rational manner. The trouble is with the misogynistic, loud mouthed image he has engendered nobody would have taken him seriously and that is a tragic waste.
The BHA relied on Tim Morris, Director of Equine Science and Welfare, as their only official spokesman. Now Tim held his own when making the technical arguments but his brief seemed to be restricted to responding only on the points of welfare and with the best will in the world he is not a PR person.
I do not like the idea that presentation is more important than substance but it is the reality of the world in which we live. Racing needs to be able to respond better to events like last weekends, if racing allows the likes of Animal Aid to set the agenda, it will find itself coming under increasing pressure from the wider public.
It is time for racing to be proactive when it comes to communication.
Racing For Change has done some excellent work in getting racing in the non-racing media, for all the right reasons. The events of last weekend can undo that good work at a stroke. Perhaps RfC should spend some time showing the wider media how good welfare really is.
Racing also needs to find the right “public face” of the sport and I don’t mean in the context of a pretty face but somebody with, I hate to say this, the personality, credibility and articulacy to project the sport fairly and accurately, somebody who can connect with the wider public.
# click here for the full BHA statement